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Open Access Highly Accessed Review

Epigenetics and phenotypic variability: some interesting insights from birds

Laure Frésard12, Mireille Morisson12, Jean-Michel Brun3, Anne Collin4, Bertrand Pain5, Francis Minvielle67 and Frédérique Pitel12*

Author Affiliations

1 INRA, UMR444, Laboratoire de Génétique Cellulaire, Castanet-Tolosan F-31326, France

2 ENVT, UMR444, Laboratoire de Génétique Cellulaire, Toulouse F-31076, France

3 INRA, UR631, Station d'Amélioration Génétique des Animaux, Castanet-Tolosan F-31326, France

4 INRA, UR83, Recherche Avicoles, Nouzilly F-37380, France

5 INSERM, U846, INRA, USC1361, Institut Cellule Souche et Cerveau, Bron F-69500, France

6 INRA, UMR1313, Génétique animale et biologie intégrative, Jouy-en-Josas F-78350, France

7 AgroParisTech UMR1313, Génétique animale et biologie intégrative, Jouy-en-Josas F-78350, France

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Genetics Selection Evolution 2013, 45:16  doi:10.1186/1297-9686-45-16

Published: 11 June 2013

Abstract

Little is known about epigenetic mechanisms in birds with the exception of the phenomenon of dosage compensation of sex chromosomes, although such mechanisms could be involved in the phenotypic variability of birds, as in several livestock species. This paper reviews the literature on epigenetic mechanisms that could contribute significantly to trait variability in birds, and compares the results to the existing knowledge of epigenetic mechanisms in mammals. The main issues addressed in this paper are: (1) Does genomic imprinting exist in birds? (2) How does the embryonic environment influence the adult phenotype in avian species? (3) Does the embryonic environment have an impact on phenotypic variability across several successive generations? The potential for epigenetic studies to improve the performance of individual animals through the implementation of limited changes in breeding conditions or the addition of new parameters in selection models is still an open question.